Husband was one-track-minded on peace, Leah Rabin says here

Following her husband's murder in November 1995, Leah Rabin spoke kindly of Yasser Arafat, who traveled to Tel Aviv under a cloak of great secrecy to offer his condolences to the family of the deceased prime minister.

Recent suicide bombings in Israel and heated Palestinian rioting over construction of Jewish settlements in southeastern Jerusalem have not changed her view of the controversial Palestinian Authority leader.

"I still don't throw all the responsibility for what's happened on him," she said in an interview last week. "We carry part of the responsibility. We have made mistakes. We made [Palestinians] angry. We abused them. This is their way of reacting."

Touring the United States for two weeks to promote her new book "Rabin: Our Life, His Legacy," Rabin spoke by phone from Los Angeles about what she most wants the world to remember about Yitzhak Rabin. She also imagined what Israel might be like today had a right-wing Jewish assassin not stolen the political leader's life.

"Had my husband not been murdered, we would be in a totally different opera right now," the 69-year-old widow said. "I don't think things would have taken these turns."

"These turns" refers to the opening last year of the tunnel entrance alongside the Temple Mount as well as to Har Homa, the Jerusalem site where the Israeli government recently broke ground for Jewish settlements, provoking the rage of Palestinians and leaders around the world.

Were Yitzhak Rabin still alive, "I strongly believe he wouldn't raise the issue right now," his widow said, "because he would believe this is not the right time to raise issues that are packed with emotion, antagonism, sensitivity. Why rock the boat before it is time?"

In her book, Leah Rabin combines her own recollections and anecdotes with excerpts from journals and personal letters to offer a look at her husband of 47 years, a soldier-turned-statesman whose life was inextricably linked to the triumphs and tragedies of the Jewish state.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, she said last week, her husband became a man virtually obsessed with the quest for peace.

"He was so one-track-minded in the way he was trying to conduct the peace process: believing in it, building trust about it," she said. "He saw the good reason and the logic in it. He had a very structured plan worked out and fully intended to follow this plan."

As eager as Leah Rabin is to talk about her husband's life — from his political career to his roles as devoted husband and doting father — she is equally resistant to talking about Yigal Amir, the man who took it.

But she is not one to mince words, and voices sharp criticism for John F. Kennedy Jr., whose political magazine George recently printed an interview with Amir's mother.

"Why on earth did he need to do that?" she asked. "These people should get as little attention as possible. Have they done anything positive? You would expect the son of John F. Kennedy, who was murdered, not to go so low as to give room to a miserable lady like that who raised this weed, never expressed remorse."

Rabin recognizes that the rage she feels toward the Amirs and their supporters may never go away. But she says the constant support she gets from her children and grandchildren, friends and strangers around the world helps ease her emotional turbulence.

During the East Coast leg of her book tour, for example, "people were coming over wherever I was, shaking hands, saying how honored they are, how moved they are, how sorry they are," she said. "It's a very, very, very warm welcome and a great sense of sharing my sorrow."

That sorrow has become more familiar, but it has not gone away.

"It is like when you are disabled," she said. "At the beginning, it is an open wound and the wound hurts and eventually the wound heals, but you still remain disabled. This is I think how I feel and will forever feel, that I lost one part of my body, of my soul."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.